Ode to the Hills

Whipple Russell Architects has built many houses over the years in both Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills above Sunset Boulevard. These neighborhoods and the section of road known as the Sunset Strip hold an enduring fascination for many as the center of a glamorous life at the birth of the movie business. 

In the 1930s came the beginnings of modernism in California, and the Sunset Strip was coming to life. Billy Wilkerson, owner of The Hollywood Reporter, was the man behind the many successful nightclubs and restaurants that sprung up along the Boulevard. The architect partnering with him was George Vernon Russell, designer of the Café Trocadero (2ndleft), The Hollywood Reporter building, Ciro's, Vendome, Sunset House, LaRue, and L'Aiglon. Marc Whipple refers to George Vernon Russell as one of the original California modernists, and feels that Russell took a big chance on hiring him as young person coming from school in London. When naming his firm Whipple Russell, he wanted to honor his mentor’s legacy.

But long before all that, an African-Mexican widow named Maria Rita Valdez Villa was deeded 4,500 acres in 1838, much of today’s Beverly Hills. Her ranch was called El Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas (“the gathering of the waters”). This gathering refers to the convergence of rainwater that flowed down through Franklin, Coldwater, and Benedict Canyons meeting at Beverly Drive and Sunset Boulevard. 

In the ensuing 60 some years the water dried up, cattle were sold and the land changed hands many times. Owners Amalgamated Oil Company, headed by Burton E. Green, were digging for oil in 1906 but instead found plentiful ground water. The bean fields were soon dubbed Beverly Hills, after Beverly Farms, Green’s hometown in Massachusetts, and the city's first wide curving streets named Rodeo, Canon, Crescent, Carmelita, Elevado, and Lomitas were constructed in 1907. 

But it was architecture – a beautiful modern mission style building -  that became the lure and the anchor of the new city: The Beverly Hills Hotel (3rdleft).  It was built in 1912 at the site of the Gathering of the Waters; this emblem of luxury and civilization brought the likes of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr west to build their Pickfair (4th left) in 1919. Movie people of the day such as Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, Carl Laemmle, John Barrymore, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Jack Warner, and Rudolph Valentino soon followed, establishing a neighborhood of extravagant mansions. These large properties, occupied by large personalities, became an opportunity for dramatic architecture: replication English and French landed gentry estates, the Italian Palazzo, the California Rancho, the sweeping Southern Plantation, Art Deco, and Moderne. Often Hollywood set designers were called in to work on the designs and furnishings.

Whipple Russell Architects loves its Los Angeles roots and continues to offer the livable, modernist, West Coast Lifestyle sensibility north and south.  

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